What does being arrested and bailed mean?

Have you been unexpectedly arrested, held in police custody, interviewed under caution and then released having been told that a police investigation is still ongoing and that you are now on police bail. It might be that it all happened so fast that you feel lost and unclear as to what it all means.

If you’ve never been involved in the criminal justice system, the procedures and language can seem alien.

Firstly, arrest is when the police have reasonable grounds to suspect you are involved in a crime and decided it is necessary to arrest you.  Often people are arrested and will find themselves released but not having been charged with a crime.

A person is charged if it’s been decided there is sufficient evidence to believe that person has committed a crime and will therefore face prosecution in the criminal courts.   That person will be given a charge sheet and a date to attend court. However, not everyone who is arrested is charged and the police may need more time to investigate the alleged crime.

If you’ve been arrested and released by police having been told you have a “bail to return” or are “bailed to return” it means the same thing. You have been placed on police bail whilst a criminal investigation is ongoing. You are under an obligation to return to the police station on a specific date whilst the investigation continues or a charging decision is made.

If you have been given a date and time to return to the police station you are under an obligation to comply, as failure to do so without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence.

This obligation is one to take seriously and one you should comply with. If the return date is one that you can’t attend, it may be that through liaising with police it can be changed. Solicitors can assist with such issues.

What are bail conditions?

If you are on police bail, the one condition everyone has is that you must return to the police station on the date and time appointed. However, in some cases additional conditions can be added, perhaps excluding a suspect from speaking to a person or going to a location.

Conditions must be properly justified before they are imposed. Failure to comply with them can lead to your arrest and any decisions taken by the CPS as to what will happen in your case may be speeded up.

Failure to keep to police bail conditions could have an adverse impact on you. If you end up facing court proceedings, it could have an impact on what your bail position will be; perhaps the Court will feel more restrictions on your liberty are necessary or at worst you could face being remanded in custody.

Bail in Court proceedings is generally considered a person’s right unless there are substantial grounds to believe that if granted bail that person would fail to attend court proceedings, commit further offences on bail or interfere with justice (usually by interfering with the prosecution witnesses).

If the conditions imposed are onerous or unjustified there are ways you can try and change or remove the conditions at the investigation stage.

How long can I be kept on police bail?

The current position is that if a person is placed on police bail, initially they are released for a period of no more than 28 days before they are asked to return to the police station.

That 28-day period of police bail can be extended by up to 3 months by the police provided certain conditions are met. (This is slightly different for any matter being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office). If the police have not concluded their investigation by the end of that 3 months they will have to make an application to the Magistrates’ Court for any further extension of police bail.

What will happen when I go back to the police station?

The police might need to interview you again if new information has come to light as a result of the investigation. Or if the investigation has ended, a decision may have been made to drop the case or for you to be charged with a criminal offence.

Of course, the police might need more time to investigate before a final decision can be made. In those circumstances you might simply be bailed to another date.

Will I find out what is happening before I go?

Most Solicitors will be in contact with the police ahead of your return date to try and establish what will be happening and they should inform you.

If the police want more time the Solicitor will try to find out why more time is required and can make representations if they feel the police are not investigating the matter within a reasonable amount of time.

Can I do anything? I have questions – whom can I ask?

Speak to a Solicitor for advice. If you have lots of questions about what happened to you or what can happen going forward, a Solicitor experienced in criminal law will be able to guide you through the process, providing information, which can be hugely reassuring when you feel powerless.

If you didn’t have a Solicitor with you are at the police station you can still get advice.

Solicitors can also work with you to establish if there is any further information you want the police to have so that it can be taken into account when decisions are made by the CPS as to whether this is evidence to charge you with an offence. Solicitors can also advise you if pre-charge representations should be made and what those representations should be. It might be that you need advice on whether evidence you possess needs to be preserved to assist you in the event that you are charged and face proceedings. Again, Solicitors can take you through the case and issue sensible and practical advice on what can be achieved.


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